It’s been a tough couple of years for socializing. From pandemic lockdowns to remote work, building and maintaining relationships has become more difficult than ever. Unsurprisingly, this has led to many more people feeling lonely at work.
This isn’t just bad news for those individuals, though; it’s also bad for business. According to research done by Gallup, when women have a best friend at work, they’re twice as likely to be engaged as those who don’t. And the social aspect is a “major reason” why two-thirds of women work.
It’s not surprising when you consider that 32% of adults worry something will happen to them and nobody will notice. The same proportion feel they have no one to turn to.
Our working lives can play a huge role in how lonely we feel. Colleagues can become an important part of our support network. Not connecting with them on a social level can be isolating and lead to feeling lonely at work and in life.
What can you do to support employees who feel lonely at work? Let’s take a look.
Encourage open communication
When you can’t talk to your colleagues about your feelings, it’s hard not to feel lonely at work.
One way to combat this is to support an open culture where conversations about mental health are welcome and encouraged.
The less someone feels able to discuss what’s on their mind, the more isolated—and therefore lonely—they’re going to feel.
Leaders within the organization set this example by how they talk about their own experiences. You don’t have to go into graphic detail, but letting employees know you really do understand can go a long way towards convincing them you’ll listen.
Educate employees—and yourself
The sad truth is that most of us aren’t taught how to look after ourselves or others through traditional education. This is despite it being an important part of having happy, healthy relationships.
It’s therefore important to do what you can to educate yourself and your employees around managing mental health. It’s also critical to know what to look for in others.
The more employees who are trained on what to look for, the more open people will be about mental health. They’ll also be more able to spot signs in their colleagues and offer them the help they need.
Not only that, but they’ll be able to spot the symptoms in themselves. From there, they can explore how to mitigate and treat those feelings.
Have a buddy system
Buddy systems can be really good to help new employees navigate what can be complex hierarchical and social structures within a business. It ensures they have someone to talk to without worrying about asking their boss too many questions. Having even one person to go to can make a big difference when it comes to feeling lonely at work.
Encourage employees to create ERGs
Employee resource groups are a great way for employees to meet their colleagues. This is especially important in larger businesses where they may only regularly deal with members of their immediate team. Employees will be more likely to meet people they have things in common with through ERGs. This can make it easier for them to form friendships and not feel lonely at work.
Show employees you appreciate them
A little appreciation goes a long way. Show employees you appreciate them with a simple thank you, a small gift, or a shoutout in a meeting. The impact on people’s confidence may surprise you.
Hold regular retreats
Regular, in-person retreats can be a great way for remote teams to get to know each other. They can even help in finding solutions to complex problems.
When organizing retreats, be mindful of who’s going and what’s involved. Say you have a wheelchair user, the last activity you want to offer is rock climbing with no alternative. That will definitely make them feel lonely at work and even less like their colleagues understand them.
It can help to have a wide variety of socializing activities during the retreat. That way, there’s something for everyone.
Try to include employees when asking for ideas, too. They may well come up with things you hadn’t, and they’ll feel appreciated just because you listened to their ideas.
Organize social activities
Activities don’t just have to be for retreats. You can do smaller ones every so often, too.
These could be online, in person, or a combination, depending on where your employees are based.
Everything from a book club to a quiz night can help employees to bond.
Let them be themselves
Most businesses are afraid of letting employees be themselves while talking about the business on social media. This then translates into employees being wary about how they talk about work to their colleagues. And reinforces feelings of isolation and being lonely at work.
Some employees may also come from a background where they’re not accepted for who they are. This could be because of their sexuality, race, religion, disability, or something else.
Encouraging employees to be themselves—and embrace that—will grow their confidence. This can then help them find more like-minded people who really do understand them.
They’ll also feel more comfortable in their role and want to stick around because work has become much more than just a job for them.
And that’s something that a lot of people really want.
They’re not just looking to pay the bills. They want to make a difference in the world, and spend time with people they actually like. They want to work smarter, not harder.
Feeling lonely at work is a bigger issue than many business owners realize because we simply don’t talk about it. And if we don’t talk about it, that means it doesn’t exist, right?
Ah, if only.
It’s only when we talk about something that we realize how prevalent an issue is, and we start to consider what we can do about it.
And, as we’ve explored in this post, there’s plenty that businesses can do to support employees who feel lonely at work.
Providing a dedicated space for employees to connect, whether they’re remote, hybrid, or on-site, is important. If you’re interested in how technology can help your team members build real, authentic connections, drop by Workrowd.com. We’ve got a suite of tools to boost engagement and retention, and support anyone who feels lonely at work. Write us at email@example.com to learn more.